Christmas in August

My dad’s name was Samuel Pettee Shaw. He went by Sam Shaw when introduced but, as kids we just called him Pebbles. He was a man of few words, so when he spoke to me I listened. His instructional advice has stayed with me decades after his death. Advise like, “Just take the next most logical step” and “Be a duck: gliding smooth on top and swimming like hell underneath”.

Dad was handsome with dark well combed hair, a strong jaw and a ski jump nose. He carried what little extra weight he had in his belly, necessitating a tightly cinched belt to keep his pants up. He loved a good joke, a bad joke, mashed potatoes and Jim Beam.

We worshiped at Downingtown Friends Meeting (Quaker) in Pennsylvania. Our fellowship celebrated the inner light in us all by not having a paid minister.  Dad rarely spoke in meeting, choosing instead to keep his thoughts private and ponder the messages of other worshipers. Music is typically not brought into the Meeting house. However, on Christmas Eve, Dad was asked to play his flute as part of the service. In the silence of the meeting, with candles reflecting off the original hand blown glass, Dad rose and put his silver flute, that he inherited from his father, to his lips.  With the clarity of a high mountain brook, he played –

Silent Night, Holy Night                                                                                                                                              

All is calm, all is bright

The air seemed to pause around me and I didn’t want to breathe for fear of breaking the spell. Around the Meeting house, heads rose and necks lengthen just a bit, as if each soul were being pulled slightly closer to heaven. While we listened, our spirits floated and looped above our heads, tying us all together in fellowship. When Dad was done, he simply sat down and rested his flute silently on his lap.

Earlier this week, that same feeling returned to me. I stared breathless as the moonlight covered my garden, came through the French doors and stretched toward my bed. Right here in the middle of August, in the dead of night, I could make out the life surrounding my windows.  The fields glowed pale against the black rim of the woods – dark arms wrapping around the bright, open landscape. In the perennial beds, white loosestrife caught the light energy, forming arched half moons bobbing with every shift of the wind. I climbed under the covers and felt my father’s voice near; assuring me that all is calm, and all is bright.


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